Man accused of making threatening comments to Sen. Jeff Flake’s staff – USA TODAY
Senate Republicans have unveiled their latest health care legislation, which aims to repeal and replace Obamacare. As expected, both side voiced bold and passionate reactions to the measure.
PHOENIX — A 59-year-old man was arrested Thursday morning after he was accused of making threatening comments to a member of Sen. Jeff Flake’s staff in Tucson.
Mark Prichard was arrested prior to 9 a.m. and charged with criminal trespassing and threatening and intimidating, according to a statement from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
The arrest came during a health care protest at Flake’s southern Arizona office in Tucson.
A second man, identified by the Sheriff’s Department as Patrick Diehl, 70, also was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. Both were taken to the Pima County Adult Detention Complex.
Flake’s office provided a transcript of Prichard’s exchange with the staff member in which Prichard alluded to the June 14 shooting in Virginia of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and others on a GOP congressional baseball team. It quoted Prichard as asking the staff member, “You know how liberals are going to solve the Republican problem?”
After the staff member said no, Prichard was quoted as saying: “They are going to get better aim. That last guy tried, but he needed better aim. We will get better aim.”
Flake, R-Ariz., was one of the Republican lawmakers practicing for the annual charity congressional baseball game when a gunman attacked. Flake was not hurt, but Scalise, the House majority whip, was critically injured. The shooter, James Hodgkinson, who apparently was politically motivated and targeting Republicans, was killed.
The next day, a Facebook user named Tim Pompe posted a message on Flake’s page that used similar language to what Prichard allegedly said: “Hey, Congressmen! Must be nice to have health insurance at a time like this. I hope the next guy has a better aim.”
Flake’s office said both Prichard and Pompe have been referred to U.S. Capitol Police.
On Wednesday, five activists protesting the Senate Republican health care bill were cited for trespassing when they refused to leave Flake’s Phoenix office after occupying its conference room all day.
On Thursday, five more demonstrators were arrested outside Flake’s Phoenix office. However, Jason Samuels, Flake’s spokesman, said the decision to remove them was made by the property manager, not Flake’s staff.
“It’s worth noting we are not the only tenants in the building,” Samuels said in an emailed statement. “To accommodate protesters, a staff member remained outside the building to meet with them for approximately two hours until the property manager asked them to leave and contacted Phoenix PD. … I’d also add that approximately 20 protesters were allowed to protest in Sen. Flake’s office for over eight hours yesterday so protests are something we’ve shown we are prepared to accommodate.”
Flake has so far not signaled his position on the Senate GOP health care bill, which was supposed to come up for a vote last week but stalled because of a lack of Republican support. The legislation aims to largely undo the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.
Flake’s staff this week has been providing opponents of the bill with a written statement from Flake in which he says his decision on the revised bill “will be based on how it balances two principles.”
“The first is that the legislation needs to ensure that those who currently have coverage do not have the rug pulled out from under them,” Flake said. “The second is that the Senate must agree on a solution that is fiscally sustainable.”
Follow Dan Nowicki on Twitter: @dannowicki
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